In September 2017, I sat with my friends in a Ball State University library room trying to come to terms with the news that Donald Trump had just shut down the program that gives undocumented immigrants like me the legal right to work and live in the United States.
My friends, who are also students in the journalism department, knew my story and fell silent. They understood that without the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (Daca) program, my future was suddenly up in the air.
I felt the knot in my stomach tighten as my mind raced with questions. Would I lose my work authorization? Would I get deported?
I’ve lived with that uncertainty for a year and a half, but this past month I finally have hope that a solution is in sight. Both the House and the Senate introduced new legislation to give Dreamers and other immigrants who are here under temporary status because of unsafe conditions in their home country the right to apply for permanent legal status. It’s a win-win for Dreamers and the communities we positively impact.
After all, Dreamers have become integral to this country by contributing meaningfully as taxpayers, consumers and entrepreneurs. Daca-eligible immigrants are productive members of society, with 93% of those in the workforce holding jobs, according to new research by New American Economy (NAE). As taxpayers, we paid close to $4bn in taxes and held $19.4bn in spending power. And about 43,000 of us have started our own businesses and created jobs that fuel America’s economy.
I came to this country from a rural town outside Mexico City when I was just nine years old. My dad had already moved to Indiana to work in a meat factory and later McDonald’s, but my mom, two sisters and I missed him so much that my parents moved us to Indiana so we could be reunited. From there, I grew up as a midwestern girl. I picked up English quickly and did well in school. But as I aged into my teen years, I realized what being undocumented meant. Not only was I prohibited from getting a driver’s license and applying for financial aid for college, I lived with a constant fear that if I got into trouble at all with the police, I could be sent back to a country I hardly knew.
So, when the Daca program was created in 2012 – my senior year of high school – I felt a flood of relief wash over me. My parents were so excited for me and my sisters they even hired a lawyer to make sure we filled out our paperwork correctly. Daca changed my life and opened up a world of opportunity to me. I became the first person in my family to graduate from college, earning a degree in journalism and design. I landed dream internships at Vox Media, Univision and Time Inc. In the summer of 2017, I worked part time at Gannett Phoenix Design Studio, which put me on a multimedia project with the Arizona Republic about the stories behind the US-Mexico border wall. Back in school a few months later, a message from my project supervisor popped up on my screen. We had won the 2018 Pulitzer prize for explanatory reporting. “Add that to your résumé,” she wrote. There I was, at risk of deportation and I had just won the most prestigious prize in American journalism. I wanted to say to the world, “See? Daca recipients are capable of so much.D
In the meantime, I followed in the footsteps of many of my fellow Dreamers and became one of three co-owners of a company that my classmate had formed. Deftly Creative is a multimedia creative services firm based here in Muncie, Indiana. Since we launched last summer, we’ve had a steady flow of clients seeking our web development, design, video production, photography and marketing services. In addition to doing work that I love, I’m excited about our vision to expand our company after graduation, create jobs here in Indiana, and increase our reach in Muncie and beyond.
The new legislation in Congress would keep the talent and economic contributions of Dreamers and other groups right here in this country. I’m urging Congress to move forward with these proposals because they offer a chance for us to realize our full potential and give back to our communities. That way, everyone wins.
Erika Espinoza is a Pulitzer prize-winning multimedia journalist, co-owner of Deftly Creative and a graduate student in emerging media design and development at Ball State University